**The picture is of several kids that ran wild at St. Thaddeus while their parents were off doing other things. This was their Christmas photo, and my child, Key, is the chubby one looking miserable in his gingerbread outfit, barefoot. We promised him cookies if he would wear the outfit for the picture.**A long time ago, back when we lived in Aiken, SC, we joined St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church. It was a rocky start, that one. The first time I went, I was on my own and pregnant, and my fingers were so swollen that my rings didn't fit. So, as an "unwed" preggo, I got shunned from the person sitting next to me. I was so angry, I decided we should just be Methodists instead. The fact that Michael was Catholic and really didn't think the Methodists would be a good fit still did not do much to soften my anger. But, eventually, a friend convinced me to give ole St. Thaddeus a second try. And I did.
Second time around, I went to an Alpha dinner where my friends were table leaders. They had invited me to join them and I had shown up. They had assured me the entire night was free and open to the community. Well, funny thing, I had actually just been to the bank that day to close my account, since my husband and I were merging our funds. All that was left of my bank account by that dinnertime was a useless checkbook, no good for anything. So I arrived at the church, and in the doorway to the dinner was a table with people sitting and collecting - money. Donations. Only I didn't have any money. So, in order not to get turned away, I wrote a check. Yes, a bad one. For that bank account I had just closed earlier in the day.
The next morning, I went to my new bank, took out actual cash, and went up to St. Thaddeus's offices. I spoke with their financial person, and asked that she rip up my good for nothing check and replace it with my cash. I think she might have been a bit flabbergasted. However, I must say, she recovered beautifully, and even told me to keep my money. No harm done. And so began my real relationship with St. Thaddeus. They shunned me, and I had cheated them. Great start, I know.
Funny thing is, God works with what He's got, and what He has is us and them. So, St. Thaddeus became a place of refuge and spiritual growth for my family. Older members, those with children already growing or grown, took us under their wings. Apparently lots of young couples like us flooded their doorway all about the same time, and the church welcomed us with open arms. They nurtured us, loved on us, guided us. In turn, we reciprocated our love for them by jumping in head first and serving in lots and lots of ministries. Especially soup kitchen. People from the community walked in the rain and cold with babies in their arms or holding onto walkers to get to St. Thaddeus's Saturday soup kitchen. It was famous among connoisseurs of free lunch. Especially when Eddie George whipped out his smoker big enough for ten birds at once. Michael loved serving there. Just loved it. So one particular Saturday, we were there, my baby was toddling around playing with some of the other children there, and a little girl came up to me.
And she asked, "Do you work here?"
I had to think, since I was on the Vestry but I didn't get paid, did that count?
Eventually, after pausing, I said, "Yes. I do work here."
Her mother ushered her away from me to get her to go eat, and our day continued, but I'll never forget her question. Do you work here?
Little does that child know what a pivotal moment she delivered in changing the way I thought about myself. About my sweet St. Thaddeus. About THE CHURCH as a whole. About how, if we so allow, God uses us to do His work. He gave us Jesus as an example. And we killed Him. And yet, God planned it that way - an ultimate sacrifice - just so that He could connect for eternity with us. So that we would not have to pay back all our mistakes in life. And in return for this sacrifice - for this example of perfect humanity, for this gift - He asks that we follow His example. We listen to Him. We do what He says.
So, every now and then, I think back to our precious time at St. Thaddeus, and how God brought us to that place, and I remember that little girl's face looking up at me. So innocent and simple and sweet, her voice.
Do you work here?
And in my mind I answer her...
Why, yes, I do. Right next to all the other liars and cheats and shunners and such. Praise the Lord, we've got a great Boss....
(I find it interesting that St. Thaddeus is the saint of lost causes. Not that I am a lost cause or anything. Not that anyone reading this blog is a lost cause...)